Renting and owning a vehicle in Costa Rica can become quite expensive and depending on where you are staying, may not be necessary. The country does have an extensive public transit system with buses going on routes throughout many parts of the country, however, it can take you a while to get to your final destination.
Sometimes just taking a taxi can make your life a little easier, getting you out of the rain, not having to stand around, and saving you some time.
Costa Rica has several different options if you are needing to catch a lift to your next stop so we have put together some tips on a few things you need to know when taking a taxi in Costa Rica.
It’s quite easy to determine who are the official taxis of Costa Rica as they are consistent throughout the entire country. Their signature red color distinguishes them from all the others with their yellow triangles at the side of the door along with their yellow taxi hat on top. The yellow triangle on the door contains relevant information to make note of, the taxi’s license number is within this sign as well as the area that they are permitted to operate in.
These government-regulated taxis are only licensed to drive within their province as indicated on the side of the door, so be sure to take note of this before entering. If you encounter a problem with the driver, leave an item in the taxi, or need to report an incident then you will need to know this pertinent information, and you may be too late trying to get it after you exit the taxi and they drive off.
Although they may be the official taxi of Costa Rica, it is no different than any other place in the world and some drivers tend to go off course with their methods. There is always someone looking to make a few extra dollars and taking advantage of the next unsuspecting person is the modus operandi of those that give a bad name to the taxi industry.
Common untruths that occur regularly are told to those heading to the bus station. More often than not too many believe the line that there is a strike scheduled causing the bus to not run and sadly people fall victim to this scam. The driver will be more than willing to take you to your destination or a different bus stop where the route isn’t affected to help you overcome this shocking news.
Of course, we want to believe that they are only helping us and that it is indeed true, we are in the land of pura vida and paradise why wouldn’t we trust everyone, right? Wrong! Some may even take it a bit further and have an accomplice on the other end of the phone pretending to confirm this information or reserving you a ticket for the other so-called bus stop.
However, if you are told this still ask to be taken to the bus station to confirm the information yourself as it almost certainly is not true and is one of the most common tales told.
Other tricks of the trade are that you have already missed your bus or that the bus route is no longer running and you will need to take a taxi to where you are going. Some may say there are restrictions or the station has moved. Once again, just ask them to take you to the bus station where you can verify this information and see for yourself that in fact the bus most likely is still on its same schedule.
The official regulated taxis in the country can be a great reliable resource to have and many locals and tourists have had great experiences as well, so it is not to say it happens to everyone. I have always had a trusted experience meeting many friendly drivers who have been straightforward forward getting me to my destination.
Feeling safe, paying reasonable prices, and enjoying a few laughs, along the way I have met some very hard-working people. Regardless of the country and occupation, there will always be someone that likes to do things a little bit differently so it’s best to be aware, especially when visiting a destination you aren’t familiar with.
A few other tips to know when taking a taxi is to ensure the meter has been turned on as this is law in Costa Rica. Do not accept being told otherwise. In that sense, if the meter is turned on, look to confirm it isn’t still running from the previous rider and that you are beginning with a fresh meter.
If your Spanish is not well versed, the meter is referred to as “maria” so if the driver needs a bit of friendly reminder to turn that meter on, you can always say “ponga la maria por favor.”
Ensure you are carrying smaller bills especially if you aren’t traveling too far as they may tell you they can’t make the change and you end up paying more for the ride than expected. If you don’t plan on paying in colones (which isn’t in your best interest) then before you even get into the taxi you should confirm they will accept the currency you have, regardless if it is US dollars.
Typically, they will tell you they can’t make change for you, as well don’t expect to get an exchange rate on par with the bank if you are paying in U.S dollars. If you found yourself having a memorable ride, you are more than welcome to tip however, it isn’t a common practice or expected of you.
Another good reminder is to have an idea of where you are heading as this will help you know if they are taking you on the scenic route to your destination, running up the meter and your fare. Take a look at one of the map apps to cross-reference your route if you are feeling a bit weary.
The more you know about your stop the better it is for the driver, remember, addresses in Costa Rica are a bit more complicated, such as the small yellow house across from the pescaderia, left of the old mango tree that was hit by lightning. Perhaps not quite that elaborate, but close enough for some of us that aren’t accustomed to the layout of addresses in Costa Rica. If you have an idea of what your stop is near, the better chance you have of your driver knowing where they are taking you.
The orange taxis are the officially licensed taxis for the airport so you will find them lined up along the road when you are exiting the airport. Technically the red taxis are not to be there, however, it’s possible to see a few lingering around after dropping someone off.
You may be approached by other drivers that offer you taxi services that state their car is across the street or not too far, these are not the official taxis for the airport, but pirate taxis.
The name pirate taxis conjures up some fascinating images, but yes that is what they are referred to as here in Costa Rica. If you have the option to take another form of transportation then if possible do so, as it is not necessarily in your best interest. If a trusted person or location that you are staying at suggests someone, then decide what feels best for you and what you are most comfortable with.
These drivers make up their own prices since they aren’t regulated and their vehicles are not official as you will see when you come across them, typically older in a wide range of conditions and many without insurance.
If you do choose to take a ride with a pirate taxi, then the same rules apply. Take a look at the license plate as if you would look at the red taxi’s signage so you are knowledgeable if anything should occur or even take a photo if you don’t trust your memory. Don’t feel awkward sitting in the back and then you can also have your belongings right with you.
Most importantly decide and confirm the price of your trip before you get in but remember there is no meter to have as your backup if the price ends up changing because they got “lost” or it took longer than expected.
Although still a bit controversial to some, especially to the rival taxi drivers, Uber is available in the urban areas of Costa Rica and many are choosing to ride with them for the convenience they offer.
One of the benefits of uber is that you don’t’ need to be concerned about the meter and being scammed in your fare as the price is already advised to you prior in the app. It also saves you a lot of stress of trying to find your way through the streets of San Jose and learning how to maneuver through its infamous traffic.
Regardless of how you choose to travel within Costa Rica, whether you are a tourist or a local, it’s always important to be alert and aware. There will always be people trying to score an extra buck wherever you go. But remember to still have fun, there are so many friendly people in this country and opportunities to create wonderful treasured moments.